On June 13, 2013, about 1010 eastern daylight time, a Beech A23, N3542R, operated by a private individual, was substantially damaged during a forced landing to a wheat field, following a total loss of engine power during approach to Henderson-Oxford Airport (HNZ), Oxford, North Carolina. The commercial pilot and flight instructor incurred minor injuries. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local flight that originated from HNZ about 1000. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The flight instructor reported that the commercial pilot had a medical condition for which his insurance carrier required him to fly with a certified flight instructor. The commercial pilot performed the preflight inspection of the airplane while the flight instructor retrieved headsets from a fixed based operator. As such, the flight instructor did not witness the preflight inspection. When the flight instructor returned, the commercial pilot told him there were 20 gallons of fuel in the left main fuel tank and "a lesser" quantity in the right main fuel tank, which was confirmed by the fuel gauges.
The airplane departed runway 24 uneventfully and the commercial pilot completed one touch-and-go landing. The flight instructor also completed one touch-and-go landing and then flew at an altitude about 2,000 feet above ground level toward a local navigational beacon for a practice instrument approach. About 1/2 mile from the beacon, the flight instructor noticed that the engine power decreased from 2,300 rpm to 2,000 rpm. The flight instructor performed a 180-degree turn back toward HNZ and noticed that during the turn, the engine power twice increased to 2,300 rpm, followed by a degrease to 2,000 rpm. At the completion of the turn, the engine lost all power.
While gliding toward the airport, the commercial pilot moved the fuel selector from the left main fuel tank position to the right main fuel tank position. Subsequently, the engine momentarily regained power to 2,000 rpm, but then lost all power again. The flight instructor turned on the boost pump and similarly the engine regained power to 2,000 rpm, followed by a total loss of power. The flight instructor was not able to glide the airplane to the airport and performed a forced landing to a field.
According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, during the landing, the airplane impacted a berm and sustained substantial damage to the left wing and fuselage. The inspector observed that the right main fuel tank remained intact and did not contain any fuel. The left main fuel tank was compromised during the accident. About 2 gallons of fuel remained in the left main fuel tank; however, an undetermined amount of fuel leaked from the left wing after impact.
The wreckage was subsequently recovered to a hangar and examined under the supervision of an FAA inspector. The examination revealed that at some point in the airplane's history, the fuel selector handle had been reinstalled approximately 180 degrees from its correct orientation. As such, when the handle portion of the selector was pointing at the desired tank, the pointer (arrow) was pointing 180 degrees away from the desired fuel tank. The FAA inspector stated that the fuel selector handle was usually removed during maintenance inspections to facilitate access to the floor boards in the cockpit. Additionally, the fuel selector handle was missing its respective roll pin, which would allow it to be installed incorrectly. With the roll pin installed, the fuel selector handle could only be installed in one direction. When the left main fuel tank was selected, the fuel selector valve was actually positioned to the right main fuel tank. When the right main fuel tank was selected, the fuel selector valve was in the off position.
Review of the airplane owner's manual revealed that one 29.9-gallon capacity fuel tank was located in each wing. Due to the fuel return going to the left main fuel tank only, the owner's manual cautioned that 15 gallons must be used from the left fuel tank first. Therefore, the pilot primarily operated the airplane with the fuel selector positioned to the left main fuel tank.
Airworthiness directive (AD) 75-01-04 was issued by the FAA on January 7, 1975, to reduce the possibility of improper or unintentional movement of the fuel selector valve, prevent binding and ensure complete shutoff of the selector valve in the "Off" position. According to the FAA inspector that examined the wreckage, the AD was applicable to the accident airplane, and could have been complied with by either replacing a roll pin fuel selector valve with a D-handle valve, or inspecting the roll pin valve at every subsequent annual inspection per Beechcraft Service Instruction (SI) 0364-289 Rev III. An entry in the airframe logbook, dated April 2, 1975, stated that AD 75-01-04 was complied with by the installation of valve part number 169-380086-1(D-handle); however, an older roll pin valve was installed in the airplane at the time of the accident. Therefore, mechanics performing subsequent inspections would assume, per the logbook entry, that a newer D-handle valve had been installed and any reference to a roll pin fuel valve in the shop manual (maintenance manual) or SI would not be applicable as it was dated information and superseded by the AD.
Review of the airframe logbook revealed that the airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on May 6, 2013. The airplane had accumulated about 1 hour of flight time since the most recent annual inspection. The FAA inspector interviewed the mechanic who completed the most recent annual inspection. That mechanic stated that he was not aware of a roll pin and there was no mention of a roll pin in the maintenance manual. The mechanic added that during the annual inspection, he removed and replaced the fuel selector handle to the same position he had found it. The FAA inspector further stated that the pilot had owned the airplane, which was manufactured in 1965, for 45 years and also performed some maintenance on it himself. The inspector could not be sure when during the airplane's history that the fuel selector handle was installed incorrectly or by whom.